2020 saw a fruitful harvest in rooftop solar for Australia, where the installed capacity from the first 9 months had exceeded that of any previous year, and now 1/4 of the houses in the country are installed with rooftop solar panels. However, the increasing number of users comes with comparatively rising incidents. As discovered by the Fire and Rescue NSW, a period of three months during the second half of 2020 alone had 30 fire incidents derived from solar panels.
Angus Taylor, Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, reminded the public back in 2018 that solar installations that non-compliant solar installations will endanger lives, and even implicate residents of the same state. COAG Clean Energy regulator had discovered that “tens of thousands” of solar panels were prone to non-standard installations or safety risks, for which merely covered 1.2% of rooftops.
Paul Baxter, Commissioner of the Fire and Rescue NSW, commented last October that fire incidents related to solar panels have been on the rise over the past 5 years, and there have been numerous burning buildings caused by fire from solar panels, whereas the data of Queensland Fire and Emergency Services indicates that 33 solar-related incidents had occurred in 2016, and the figure had been lowered to 16 during 2017.
The coverage pointed out that despite being a national issue, Victoria is the only state that has begun inspecting each individual rooftop solar system, and Taylor had announced the investigation of the entire solar industry in August last year.
What exactly went wrong? Could it have something to do with the installations? Installation errors, incompatible components, and lack of maintenance could all be the cause of the fire incidents. As the current DC/AC conversion device, the solar inverter is equipped with a number of protection mechanisms, such as the DC isolator, which is also known as the anti-islanding system that primarily maintains electrical separation and prevents fire or electric shock, and serves as the switch for solar energy. The discrete power system of grid connection essentially requires an installation of an anti-islanding system, where the inverter of the grid connection is able to trip during a grid outage, which prevents electric shock for all surrounding individuals.
However, foreign media has pointed out that solar system equipment that comprises of DC isolators, instead of solar panels, is usually concatenated with fire incidents, due to issues discovered in installations and product design, thus it is rather a trouble maker and not a trouble resolver. According to previous UK studies, 40% of fire incidents were related to DC isolators, and poor grounding is one of the main factors.
Foreign media also pointed out at the same time that despite being one of the cheapest countries in solar energy, the safety standards of Australia contain safety risks, and the country has been sluggish in terms of the relevant safety compliances of solar energy. Although the amendment that came into on June 28th 2019 had allowed the specification to be more in line with the local climate and application of the country, 2 million systems were already installed back then.
Other issues include flammable cladding layers, cables and wires, as well as building products purchased by other manufacturers without approvals, and inferior rooftop solar modules, which contribute to the continuously rising recall rate. The recent recall list of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) includes the devices from the industry leader Origin Energy and AGL. A further improvement in the safety of solar energy would require a synergistic effort from the government, industry, academic, and research sector.
In terms of the quality assurance in solar products for Taiwan, the Bureau of Standards, Metrology and Inspection had incorporated solar inverters into the Voluntary Product Certification in 2019, whereas TPC also requires operators to obtain the VPC license, apart from the IEC specification, in order to sell and use electricity in Taiwan, as stated from the “Key Points of Parallel Technology of Renewable Energy Power Generation System”.
(Cover photo source: Flickr/Michael Coghlan CC BY 2.0)